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Country profiles



Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia with a total area of about 652 000 km. It is bordered by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, China to the north-east, Pakistan to the east and south and Iran to the west. It is characterized by its rugged terrain and an average elevation of 1 100 metres above sea level, ranging from 150 to 8 000 metres. About threequarters of the territory consist of mountains and hills, while lowlands include river valleys in the northern part, and desert regions in the southern and south-eastern part.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 65 209 000 ha
Cultivable area 1978 8 000 000 ha
Cultivated area 1990 3 344 000 ha
- annual crops 1990 3 200 000 ha
- permanent crops 1990 144 000 ha
Total population 1995 20 141 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 31 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 80 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1993 38 %
Rural population 1993 17 %

The political instability prevailing in Afghanistan makes it extremely difficult to obtain reliable information on basic agricultural indicators. Most of the information presented below dates back to years prior to 1978.

The cultivable area has been estimated at 8 million ha, which is 12% of the total area.

In 1991, the area cultivated with annual crops was estimated at 3.2 million hectares, which is only 82% of the area cultivated in 1978. In addition, about 144 000 ha were estimated to consist of permanent crops in 1990.

The total population is 20.1 million (1995), of which 80% is rural. Up to 6 million Afghans, perhaps one third of Afghanistan's 1978 population are estimated to have fled the country because of the war. Another 800 000 to 1 million people are thought to have been displaced by the fighting to the more remote, mountainous regions of the country or to the relative security of the country's few towns and cities. In 1991, 67% of the labour force was employed in the agricultural sector and agriculture accounted for almost 46% of GDP.



Afghanistan is characterized by a continental climate, though the presence of mountains causes many local variations. Temperatures vary from - 10C in winter to 34C in summer. The annual distribution of rainfall shows a picture of an essentially arid country, with more than 50% of the territory receiving less than 300 mm of rain. With the exception of the eastern border regions, which are at the far edges of monsoon influence, about 50% of the precipitation occurs in winter (January to March), much of which falls in the form of snow in the central mountainous regions. A further 30% falls in spring (April to rune). The runoff from snow melt, in the spring and summer months when day temperatures are high, is the lifeblood of Afghan agriculture.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   - mm/yr
  - km/Yr
Internal renewable water resources   55 km/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 65 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 15.4 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 3 227 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1987 25 849 106 m/yr
- domestic 1987 261 106 m/yr
- industrial 1987 0 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   26 110 106 m/yr
per inhabitant 1987 1702 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   40.2 %
Other water withdrawal   - 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion   - 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
Desalinated water   - 106 m/yr


Water resources

Based on the hydrographic systems, the country can be divided into four zones:

Internal renewable water resources are estimated at 55 km/year. The Kunar river, which originates in Pakistan, crosses the border with an average annual flow of 10 km and joins the Kabul river at Jalalabad about 180 km further downstream. The Kabul river flows again into Pakistan 80 km further downstream.

Total water withdrawal was estimated at 26.11 km in 1987, of which 99% for agricultural purposes (Figure 1). Recently, there has been a large development of groundwater use in some provinces.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential   - ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1967 2385740 ha
- surface irrigation   - ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1963 114 000 ha
- micro-irrigation   - ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1967 15.4 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1967 84.6 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1967 0.0 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated   - %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b)   - ha
Total irrigation (1 +2+3) 1967 2385740 ha
- as % of cultivated area   71 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 +2+3+4) 1967 2 385 740 ha
- as % of cultivated area   71 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > - ha   - ha
Medium-scale schemes   - ha
Small-scale schemes < - ha   - ha
Total number of households in irrigation      
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production   - tons
as % of total grain production   - %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control)   - ha
- permanent crops: total   - ha
- annual crops: total   - ha
. wheat 1990 1030000 ha
.   - ha
.     ha
. other annual crops   - ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area   - ha
as % of cultivated area   - %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas   - ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains   - ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants

In 1986, there were two dams higher than 15 m. The installed capacity of the hydroelectric plants was 281 MW in 1992, which is about 70% of total installed capacity. There is considerable potential for the generation of hydropower, both by large dams and micro-hydropower stations.


By 1978, the surface water potential was more or less fully exploited by existing irrigation systems if no further regulation works were going to be constructed, although the efficiency of exploitation left room for considerable improvement. Irrigated areas could have been expanded by building major dams and other water regulation structures, all of which required large capital investment. There is no estimate, even rough, of irrigation potential.

An estimated 27 to 36% of all irrigation systems were directly affected by war and these figures do not take into account the indirect effects of neglect and abandonment.

Agriculture was said to be almost entirely dependent on irrigation, although this view tended to ignore the large areas of rainfed wheat grown on the steep rolling hills and steppes in the north. The most reliable figures for irrigated areas date back to 1967, giving a total of 2 385 740 ha. Irrigated land can be divided into 4 classes, according to the origin of the irrigation water. They are presented in Figure 2. In 1963, some 114000 ha were reported to be equipped for sprinkler irrigation.

From 1967 up to the present, many different figures have been given for irrigated, rainfed and total cultivated areas. Unfortunately, most of them are unreliable. Some pre-war Publications suggest that 2.8 million hectares were cultivated, of which 1.4 million ha had sufficient water to support double-cropping. Figures for rainfed areas are generally cited as 1.4 million hectares, but recent satellite data (1992) indicate that the area might be much larger - a figure of 3.1 million hectares has been suggested.

Irrigation systems can be divided into four main categories:

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 26.11 km in 1987)

Figure 2 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 2 385 740 ha in 1967)


In 1993, the average cost of irrigation scheme rehabilitation was estimated at $US 200/ha for small schemes. Rehabilitation costs for large, modern schemes, including main structures, are considerably higher.

Cropping intensity varies widely from system to system according to the relative scarcity of water in relation to land. It might reach 200% in large formal systems with water control (upstream of the river systems, when climatic conditions allow an early wheat crop), while in other systems up to two-thirds of the equipped area are kept fallow each year on a rotation basis.

Per caput wheat consumption in Afghanistan is one of the highest in the world. Pre-war, irrigated land produced 77 % of all wheat and 85 % of all food and agricultural crops. About 1 million ha of wheat was irrigated in 1990, although the 1978 figure may be as high as 1.3 million ha, and irrigated yields are estimated to be 3 times rainfed yields. Global cereal yields are estimated to have decreased by 30% between 1978 and 1987.

Floods are generally violent and can cause serious damage to agricultural land or inhabited areas. About 50 gabion river protection works and 50 flood protection masonry walls were constructed before the war, mostly in the Nangarhar and Parwan provinces, in the eastern part of the country.


The Central Authority for Water and Sewerage is responsible for the urban water supply and sanitation, under the aegis of the Central Authority for Housing and Town Planning, while the Ministry of Rural Development and Rehabilitation is responsible for the rural water supply.

The Ministry of Water and Power was formed in 1988 as the merger of the former separate Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources and the Ministry of Power. It is in charge of the hydrological network, the development of water resources and of large-scale and modern irrigation systems, especially of diversion structures on the rivers and main canals. The Ministry's Department of Water Management is operational in most provinces.

The Department of Irrigation of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development is in charge of small-scale irrigation systems and of irrigation systems downstream of the diversion structures on the main canal.

The Ministry of Agriculture is in charge of production and, therefore, of on-farm infrastructure and water management.

An Irrigation Secretariat within the Ministry of Planning is coordinating irrigation development planning.

In some cases, the Irrigation Development Authorities are still operational. They are in charge of the development, operation and maintenance of large-scale irrigation systems. Government construction and consulting companies involved in irrigation are:

A water law was passed in 1981.


In 1993, the Ministry of Agriculture's most pessimistic estimates were that only 750 000 ha were still under satisfactory irrigation. A number of programmes have been proposed and some launched in order to rehabilitate the infrastructures, the human and other resources and the institutions and social infrastructure as related to irrigated agriculture.

At the same time, rehabilitation works have to be carried out in a context of scarce human resources and funds, because the people must also address several other urgent needs and repair other basic infrastructures. Therefore, apart from improving water management and reducing water losses to increase irrigated areas, rehabilitation works have to aim at reducing future maintenance requirements through proper design.

Under the last five-year plan, 76% of the budget for the agricultural sector was earmarked for irrigation works.

Due to the increasing use of groundwater in recent years, there is a risk of over-exploitation and depletion in the absence of regulating and licensing authorities, which in some places might lead to the drying out of kareze or qanats, springs and wells, depending on the same water sources.


FAO. 1965. Survey on land and water resources. Afghanistan. Six volumes. Kabul.

UNDP. 1993. Afghanistan rehabilitation strategy: Action plan for immediate rehabilitation. Six volumes. Kabul.

UNORSA. 1993. Afghanistan irrigation subsector profile: Elements for a two-year agriculture rehabilitation action plan. Report prepared by T. Facon, FAO. Islamabad, Pakistan.

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